A growing evidence base shows access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, can yield socio-economic benefits, and particularly in developing countries.
At the country level, access to digital technology can help boost gross domestic product (GDP) through job creation and greater productivity.
Emerging markets in developing contexts can benefit from 1.2 per cent more GDP for every 10 per cent increase in mobile penetration.
At the micro level, certain studies have identified a positive relationship between income generation, owning a mobile phone, and internet use.
However, despite the big opportunities that digital technologies can bring, not everyone is benefiting equally.
There is a gender gap in terms of ICT access and use, with women and girls at the bottom of the economic pyramid being disproportionately affected. Recent data by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) suggest that, on average, 12 per cent fewer women than men have access to the internet.
This gender gap is prevalent across the whole ICT ecosystem. Women and girls are not only under-represented as ICT users, but also within the ICT industry itself – in start-ups, technology companies, and ICT jobs in general.
In the development context, men are 2.7 times more likely than women to work in the digital sector.
Gender-based discrimination and disparities in the physical world are being replicated in the digital world and women face higher barriers when it comes to initial access, affordability of digital services and use of ICT.
In the micro-retail sector, we have found out that low technical and digital literacy skills as well as lower confidence, also impact women’s access to, and use of ICT.
In general, women are 1.6 times more likely to report lack of skills as a barrier to internet use. Surveys have shown that many women fear using technology because they perceive it as complex, with some people citing they do not have the time to learn it.
However, the ICT ecosystem is changing rapidly. The lines separating adoption and production of digital technology are blurring. User-friendly technologies are changing the ways in which business owners, suppliers, and investors interface.
Among larger SMEs, the digital divide may be closing, but there are still many myths that must be addressed to improve adoption by micro-entrepreneurs.
Women also tend to have little formal training in ICT skills compared to men. Typically, female users develop their skills at home, in the workplace, or in trusted local community environments.
Women are far more likely to report that they do not see a reason for them to access and use ICT. As a result, women are less likely to develop confidence to use digital technology, use ICT to create content of their own, or use ICT for their own entrepreneurial activities.
To sustainably solve the gaps, introduction of digital solutions is critical. Kenya has 125.8 percent mobile penetration defined by SIM penetration. The high mobile penetration presents opportunity for technology companies to build mobile-based tech solutions.
Alice Waweru is the Entrepreneurship Portfolio Lead, TechnoServe